I’ve read quite a few of Jacques Ellul’s books over the years but I just got around to reading his first book, which was written in 1948:
The Presence of the Kingdom by Jacques Ellul https://amzn.to/2ls7k8J
I had high hopes for this book, and I wasn’t disappointed. Ellul can be a challenge to read. And the fact that he wrote in French, and everything he wrote must be translated, doesn’t help. But it’s mostly his thinking that is challenging. Most people, including myself, simply haven’t thought about things as much as Ellul did, so it’s hard to get a grasp on his thinking.
The Presence of the Kingdom is the easiest of his books that I’ve read thus far, and this is probably because it’s his first book and the many thoughts he later fleshed out are, in The Presence of the Kingdom, in a more germinal stage.
This makes the book more interesting to me because, although he expands upon his ideas in later books, this book allows me to think for myself, and try to imagine where we should go next, as though he never wrote another book, which is exactly what Ellul was hoping for when he wrote The Presence of the Kingdom.
We need to know where we are before we can know where we need to be going. We need to realize the trouble we’re in and how to get out of it. We need to reach the world for Christ by living a different style of life in the world around us.
If you want to know why politics and wars never solve problems but only create new ones… if you want to know why we can never say “no” to the latest new technology… if you want to know why communication technology has created a lack of genuine human relationships… if you want to know how we can reach the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ… buy this book. You’ll be very glad you did.
Rarely, after reading a book, do I feel like buying a case of them and passing them out to neighbors, friends, and strangers on the street. But with The Presence of the Kingdom I feel like doing exactly that.
“At the present moment we are confronted by a choice: either a mass civilization, technological, ‘conformist’ — the ‘Brave New World’ of Huxley, hell organized upon earth for the bodily comfort of everybody — or a different civilization, which we cannot yet describe because we do not know what it will be; it still has to be created, consciously, by men. If we do not know what to choose, or, in other words, how to ‘make a revolution,’ if we let ourselves drift along the stream of history, without knowing it, we shall have chosen the power of suicide, which is at the heart of the world. But we cannot have any illusions; confronted by the power of organization, our revolutionary knowledge can scarcely be used. On the other hand, where are the men and women, at the present time, who have a true sense of ‘revolution’?”
Jacques Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom (p. 31)
“We do not have to strive and struggle in order that righteousness may reign upon the earth. We have to be ‘just’ or ‘righteous’ ourselves, bearers of righteousness. The Bible tells us that where there is a just man justice prevails… Thus justice is not a goal to attain, or a balance to be acquired, but it is the gift of God, free and inexplicable, which exists in our life so that our means are not intended to ‘bring in’ justice, but to manifest it.”
Jacques Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom (p. 66)
“When I speak of ‘life’… I simply mean the expression of the Holy Spirit, working within us, expressing himself in our actual life, through our words, our habits, and our decisions. Thus what we need is to rediscover all that the fullness of personal life means for a man standing on his own feet in the midst of the world, who rediscovers his neighbor because he himself has been found by God. In the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit we receive the answer to this work of God, and we are bewildered because we are no longer very sure about the way forward, which no longer depends upon us. The end, as well as the means, has been taken away from us, and we hesitate as we look at this way which lies open before us, whose end we cannot see; we have only one certainty, and that is the promise which has been made to us of a certain order, which God guarantees: ‘Seek ye first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all things shall be added unto you’ (Matt. 6:33).”
Jacques Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom (pp. 77-78)
“Day after day the wind blows away the pages of our calendars, our newspapers, and our political regimes, and we glide along the stream of time without any spiritual framework, without a memory, without a judgment, carried about by ‘all winds of doctrine’ on the current of history, which is always slipping into a perpetual past. Now we ought to react vigorously against this slackness—this tendency to drift. If we are to live in this world we need to know it far more profoundly; we need to rediscover the meaning of events, and the spiritual framework which our contemporaries have lost.”
Jacques Ellul, The Presence of the Kingdom (p. 138)